Thank-you for taking the time to E-mail me. I am swamped with too much to do right now but have printed it out to re-read at a later date. I am, however, writing this to you because something has bothered me for some time and would appreciate your opinion on this. On several occasions I've been out and about and suddenly a stranger will say, in front of their friends, "I know you from CoDA and there's that cute guy there, too..." and start talking with their friends about it. Personally I feel that's a violation of the anonymity, I've even done it myself by introducing one of my member friends to other friends at my birthday party. Another lady, at one of my friend's wedding reception did the same thing to me and when I told her I felt uncomfortable about it she said "I don't mind people knowing I'm in recovery " and I had to try and explain about boundaries. I've raised the subject at my group and was told
a) "Thanks for sharing." and another time
b) "It says quite clearly 'what you see hear... let it stay here" and left at that.
My feeling is that the latter is not explanatory enough because if I'd really understood it I wouldn't have violated that rule and my suggestion is that there be a little addition made to somehow explain that not only what is said remain confidential, and by whom, but that people themselves are to remain anonymous outside the group. Perhaps you have a better suggestion. I'd appreciate your input.
Anonymity has often been a confusing and touchy issue in CoDA. We are Co-dependents ANONYMOUS right? So anonymity seems to have some value. Just what that is might make a good topic for a discussion meeting! Anyway, here are some of my thoughts on the subject. As always, take what you like and leave the rest.
First, as the 12 Steps help guide us in our personal recovery and individual relationships, the 12 Traditions help guide us in our recovery as a group and group relationships. I have found that the Traditions have a lot to offer on healthy relationships in general, and toward that end, our 12th Tradition states "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. In the new CoDA pamphlet "Using the Twelve Traditions," It goes on to explain "Anonymity challenges us to practice true humility and reminds us that the principles of the CoDA program transcend any individual."
People are not actually required to remain anonymous outside the group. CoDA doesn't govern anybody's behavior, and it would be hard to do "12th Step" work if we couldn't share our story about the program. So long as I maintain personal anonymity in the media (press, radio, and film, Tradition 11) I may choose to tell anyone that I am in CoDA...or not. The choice is wholly mine, no one elses. However, It is not for me to break anyone elses anonymity, not so much because of what it might do to them, but because it is part of my recovery to let other people make their own decisions and to mind my own business.
If I feel the urge to tell that somebody else is in CoDA I need to look at my motivation. What do I think I gain by doing that? Do I look better if I'm not the only sick puppy in the room? Do I look trendy or smart? If they look pretty good, do I look good too? Or do I bring somebody down a notch by telling others that they're not "really" normal? I believe the greatest value of anonymity is that it reminds us to practice humility and to refrain from telling other people's stories or making assumptions about what other people are willing to have shared about them.
Anonymity also helps make CoDA a safe place to share our shadows, our demons, our fears, and uncertainties. This type of sharing was especially scary for me as a newcomer, and actually for a few years into the program. I was not accustomed to making myself vulnerable. I thought I had to shield myself from others in order to be safe. Although I don't feel that way anymore, it was in CoDA that I eventually learned to find safety within myself, and anonymity helped support me while I learned. I once heard a member of CoDA state, "it's not like alcoholism" as if codependency is not stigmatized and codependents should feel no shame. I disagree with that view.
In my own experience, I often share that I am in a 12 step program. Most people have responded with interest and I have had an opportunity to carry the message. Some people, however, have responded with derision and mockery, and they were friends. I was surprised and a little hurt, even though I know their reaction had a lot more to do with them then it had to do with me. But imagine how someone might feel to get such derision from strangers to whom their identity as a CoDA was divulged without their consent! Growth takes time. Anonymity in CoDA helps shelter us while we tentatively release our old protective habits and try on self-responsibility and seek a relationship with a higher power.
So how do we introduce CoDA friends to non-CoDA friends or spouses? Does it go like this?
Me: Honey, I'm going to lunch with some friends this afternoon.
Spouse: That's nice. Who are you going with?
Me: Oh, uh, just some friends.
Spouse: Who? Do I know them?
Me: No, you don't know them.
Spouse: How did you meet them?
Awkward if not actually suspicious. Or how about this one.
Spouse: Who was that on the phone?
Me: Oh, just a friend.
Spouse: You were on the phone for an hour, Anything wrong?
Me: Well, not really, she just needed to talk.
Spouse: Was it one of your CoDA friends?
Of course neither of those scenes actually demands that individual names be divulged. Parties are another matter. In the following vignette, Jean is CoDA, Sarah is not.
Me: Jean I'd like to introduce you to my friend Sarah, Sarah this is Jean.
Jean: Hi Sarah.
Sarah: Nice to meet you, Do you work with A.?
Sarah: So how did you two meet?
And on it goes. AA has been dealing with this for years, and one thing they sometimes do is to introduce a fellow AA as "a friend of Bill's" (founder of AA). Maybe we could introduce each other as "friends of Ken and Mary" (founders of CoDA). Or maybe "We have some mutual friends. We met over coffee." This might be another good topic for a meeting.
As for addressing someone who introduces me as someone they met in CoDA, here's what I do. I immediately say, "And you just broke my anonymity." I accidentally learned that from a coworker of mine. A client saw her in our workplace and piped up "Hey, I saw you in an AA meeting." He seemed pleased to recognize her but she didn't let it pass. "And you just broke my anonymity" she replied. He was very contrite and apologetic. Not everyone will be. In my own experience people have gotten a bit defensive. That's OK. I'm not mad at them, but it is a boundary issue, and I am responsible for asking for what I want. In this case I want my anonymity to be respected. I can say something like "I don't want my anonymity broken outside the meeting. Please don't tell people I'm in CoDA." If they don't like it I can't change that but I can share my thoughts and feelings on the subject and then...let it go.
So that's my viewpoint (although a bit longwinded to be sure.) I believe you're on the right track. Trust your gut. Trust yourself. Speak your truth, but don't spin your wheels trying to get anyone else to "change" or even to "understand." Those who already understand will find you when you are true to yourself.